Threatened, endangered and extinct – words most of us have heard, but few of us truly understand. As the world around us grows at break neck speed, the pace at which we pursue development impacts more than our community, but many of the animals that call our land home. One of these areas is the
Florida Everglades, known internationally for its stunning collection of extraordinary plants and wildlife. Unfortunately, over the years, degradation of habitat has caused a number of species in the area to decline.
From the Florida Panther and the American alligator to over 350 bird species, the Everglades offers outdoor enthusiasts a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet incredible Everglades wildlife. The magical side of South Florida deserves our attention, and the more we know, the more likely it will be that these incredible animals can continue to call the Everglades home.
Endangered Versus Threatened: Understanding Classification of Everglades Wildlife
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was created in 1973 to conserve and set up recovery plans for species and habitats on the federal lists. However, animals must be on both lists (threatened and endangered) before the ESA will step in to provide protection. What is the difference between endangered and threatened? Basically, a species is classified as endangered if it is in immediate danger of extinction unless something is done to protect its habitat. Threatened species are those that are likely to become endangered in the near future if steps are not taken to mitigate risk.
In 2015, the National Park Service states there are 23 animal species in the Everglades on both lists – federally endangered and threatened. However, there are over 60 on just the threatened list. The Florida panther, American alligator, West Indian manatee, wood stork and snail kite are just a few animals in the area that are currently receiving some form of protection at the state and federal level.
Threatened Everglades Wildlife May Become Endangered Without Protection
The American Alligator
The American alligator in South Florida is iconic. Aside from great notoriety, few people in the state realize that the alligator is classified by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened, and is likely to become endangered if we fail to protect its habitat. Alligators thrive in the fresh water marshes of the Everglades and play a critical role in helping sustain the ecosystem. The state has adopted a few managed control programs, and it’s illegal to take an alligator without a permit and proper license. Nevertheless, up to a third of all alligator nests are destroyed.
The Sea Turtle is one of the oldest creatures on Earth. Despite catastrophic change, sea turtles have stayed pretty much the same for millions of years. On the Federal endangered list since 1978, sea turtles in South Florida depend on the unique marine and estuarine habitat of the Everglades for survival. Pollution and illegal harvesting for eggs play roles in declining populations, even as local government, non-profit groups and community members work to raise awareness through habitat reconstruction efforts.
The Everglades are literally brimming with incredible birds. In fact, there are over 350 different species alone. But many are threatened and endangered, including the snail kite, woodstork, woodpecker and bald eagle. As water levels fluctuate in water conservation areas, nesting efforts fail. Inadequate nesting leads to poor reproduction and reduced numbers of juveniles.
The Florida Panther
The Florida panther relies on the Everglades for survival, yet habitat degradation is the key reason for its declining health. Currently, there are an estimated 70-100 panthers living in the Everglades, making them one of the most endangered animals in the world.
Another iconic endangered species, manatee can’t survive in water temperature below 63 degrees and often migrate towards warmer spring-fed rivers during winter months.
Appreciating the Florida Everglades: Visiting with Everglades Wildlife
Originally, the greater Everglades ecosystem had a large diversity of habitats, but human population growth, land development and drainage programs significantly impacted the wetlands. Today, while there are many contributing factors to the decline in Everglades wildlife, there are just as many informed, motivated and resourceful people ready to help. Exploring this natural, pristine environment is a once in a lifetime experience, and the perfect tribute to the animals who reside there.
Visiting Everglades Holiday Park is a great way to expose the kids to the importance of conservation and preservation and an exciting family adventure they’ll remember forever.
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